Retailers can thank the Internet for helping stores grow their business and audience reach all over the globe. E-commerce shows no sign of slowing down, and customers are increasingly turning to online stores like Amazon and more to fulfill their shopping needs. But with the Internet also comes the challenging task of managing returns. Retailers have to manage a number of returns, ranging from the wrong item sent to apparel that doesn’t fit to recalls as the result of healthcare endangerment. An omni-channel approach to retail and complex shipping logistics can cause problems for retailers managing a large number of returns per year, but software solutions are available to help improve shipping operations.
Mistakes are bound to occur in online retail, for both the retailer and the customer. For example, a customer might order a red shirt but, upon opening the package, find a blue shirt or a pair of pants instead. A customer could also order something fragile, like a computer, and find the screen shattered or cracked in multiple places. As a retailer sending these items, you face several challenges. If a customer returns a legitimate purchase, you could end up dealing with a product that was malfunctioning, had missing pieces or broke as the result of poor shipping.
Even worse than a returned item is when retailers need to recall products that are regarded as harmful to the public. Not only do you need to manage the return of potentially harmful products, you also need to inform the public of the dangers your products pose. Returns, in general, are something no one wants to deal with but everyone has to at some point in their lifetime. Above all, retailers must be able to make the return process seamless and as easy as possible for every customer.
All customers want a fast and easy return process. Doesn’t matter the item they’re trying to return, as long as the process is simple, they are willing to take the time to send back the items they don’t want. And on the flip side, retailers handling returns want as much information as possible from the customer as to why they are returning a particular item.
But unlike shipping products from your warehouse to the customer, reverse logistics is a slightly trickier process to manage. When you ship a product to your customer, you tend to package it neatly in a box, occasionally with some wrapping paper or bubble wrap. But think back to a time when you’ve had to return an item. Did you wrap it just as carefully as when you received it to send back to a company? Chances are, you didn’t; most people are sending back items that are missing their plastic covers and are shoved somewhat careless back into the box. Everything you ship your customer will likely not be returned to you in the same fashion.
The capabilities you normally use in a supply chain to ship items from your stores are not the same tools you would need for reverse logistics. There exist different processes, different technologies and different expertise to handle returns, especially in mass volumes. Additionally, you’ll need to consider what you can do with a product once it’s been returned to you. If it’s something as simple as the wrong t-shirt being returned, you can easily repackage the returned item and sell it to someone else. But say someone returns a computer with a cracked monitor – it’s obviously unusable, so the retailer needs to identify some way to recycle this technology. Costs will increase for retailers who can’t find ways to repurpose or recycle the items that have been sent back to them.
One software solution that can assist retailers with their returns is a transportation execution solution, which helps stores manage high volume processing. This type of solution offers collaboration between suppliers and distributors, making it easier to personalize decisions based on unique user interfaces. And for returns in particular, transportation execution software offers increased visibility to a business’s supply chain inventory, improving demand management.
As you shop around for solutions to improve your reverse logistics, keep in mind that your software solution must be able to function separately from your shipping logistics, because your shipping logistics and reverse logistics require different capabilities and expertise. And it’s equally important to think about what your company will do with the items once they’ve been returned. Have a plan of action in place for items that are returned, and remember to reduce, reuse or recycle.